Steve Austin & HHH v Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho (RAW, 5/21/01)
Watched this yesterday morning, and while I enjoyed it, I didn't really, like, enjoy it, y'know? I was planning on talking about it at some point yesterday, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. So I watched it again today. This time I didn't just enjoy it; I actually enjoyed it. Italics and shit, y'know? The first few minutes aren't really your typical southern tag 'babyface shine' minutes, because Benoit and Jericho don't get *that* much more offence in than Austin and Triple H do, but the heels frequently have to cut Benoit and Jericho off by taking a shortcut, eg thumbing them in the eye, double teaming in their corner, etc. It's all really intense and spirited; you get the sense the double Chris' are totally geared up for this - Jericho in particular is animated to high Hell, sprinting across the ring at one point and elbowing Helmsley square in the jaw for breaking up a Benoit pin attempt - and that Austin and Trip are in for a fight if they want to keep the belts. Really dug the transition spot into Benoit playing face-in-peril -- Benoit manages to hook in a surprise Crossface on Austin and Jericho springboard dropkicks Trip off the apron before he can break it, but that of course forces the ref' to put Jericho out and in turn let Helmsley waste Benoit with a chair. Crowd expects that to be all she wrote since the Power Trip have been doing shit like that for weeks now, so the pop for Benoit kicking out is crazy. Benoit's subsequent stretch as FIP is great, too. He's not as charismatic as Jericho, but he's a better bumper and seller, and Jericho's an awesome cheerleader on the apron anyway, so the crowd remain rabid for all of it. Hunter and Austin's beatdown is really solid; Austin is especially good, coming across as being totally unglued. There's one part where he's elbowing Benoit in the head, grating his face into the canvas and the crowd start an "Austin Sucks" chant, so he gets up and yells "AAAHHHHHH" at a section of the crowd like a fuckin' lunatic. Then he goes back to dropping elbows on Benoit. Great moment later on where Trip has the ref' distracted and he just stomps right on Benoit's plums. This is also about as close to seeing Helmsley work effectively as a "cerebral assassin" as I can recall. He's actually a pretty great compliment to Austin here, in that Steve's a batshit maniac, so Trip coming in and working simple "methodical" spots like an assisted abdominal stretch and cutting Benoit off with a sleeper hold adds a lot to this. Sort of like the Robin to Austin's Batman, if Batman was a bald sociopath and Robin was a He-Man action figure. And if Helmsley's ego would allow himself to portrayed as anybody's 'Robin'. That's an atrocious analogy (I'm not even sure it's an analogy at all), but I'm drawing a blank on any decent pop culture comparisons right now so fuck it. He also throws great shoulderblocks in the corner. I mean, Helmsley seriously has great corner shoulderblocks, not just in this match but a lot of the time. I watched a bucket load of RAW matches from 2000 a few months back and I found myself thinking "Man, Helmsley has a sweet corner shoulderblock." I kinda wish he decided to use shoulder-based offence as his mid-level signature stuff rather than his fairy-like knee-based offence. His jumping knee looks piffly more often than not. His shoulderblocks look like they'd cave your ribcage in. I like how they incorporate the phantom hot tag into this. They tease it at first, with Benoit almost getting there and Austin distracting the ref', but then Benoit gets up and nails Hunter with an enziguri instead. Austin's reaction rules; cursing and punching the turnbuckle because Benoit's an inch away from making the tag. Then Benoit does make the tag, but Austin manages to distract Hebnar for the second time and Jericho gets promptly tossed. At this point Jericho throws a paddy and BAH GAWD HE'S HAD ENOUGH. First he takes Austin out on the floor and then he hits a missile dropkick on Helmsley while Hebnar's tending to Austin. Thought that was a great payback of sorts after all the shit Hunter and Austin have pulled already, and the hot tag is HOT. It's here where Jericho gets the Walls on Austin and Trip tears his quad by breaking it up. It's also here where they sort of teeter on the line between 'crazy and out of control' in a good way and 'crazy and out of control' in a clusterfuck kind of way. For starters you've got Jericho - the legal man - putting the WoJ on Helmsley out on top of the announce table, while Benoit - not the legal man - gives Austin the diving headbutt for a phantom pinfall (Earl's out on the floor with Jericho and Trip), only to stand up, yell at the ref' to get his ass in the ring, and turn around into a Stunner. Hebnar starts a count anyway, so Jericho - the babyface - drags him out, and Hebnar goes ahead and sells this for a while. Back in the ring Jericho hits the Lionsault, so Hunter gets back in with a sledgehammer and winds up blasting his own partner, at which point Benoit tackles him out of the way and Jericho covers Austin for the three. Now, honestly, I can't say any of that bothers me at all, in fact I actually like Jericho stooping to the heels' level by dragging Hebnar out, because I thought it was a great 'taste of your own medicine' spot. I even thought the sledgehammer finish was good, because the signs of dissension between the Power Trip had been popping up already, and I get the feeling this might have been the catalyst to them EXPLODING~ had Helmsley not ripped his leg apart in the process. Hebnar starting the count on the wrong guy was silly, but shit, IT'S A WARZONE OUT THERE and all that good stuff, plus he's terrible anyway, so I'll give him a break for the stupidity. BUT I could just as easily see someone saying all of it takes away from everything that had come before it (which had been excellent), and I wouldn't really argue with them. So yeah, I thought this was terrific. Don't think it's the best tag match the company's ever ran, but I'd probably call it the best one they ran that decade without thinking too hard. And major respect to Helmsley for taking the Walls like he did. As someone that's had/will continue to have their fair share of sporting injuries, that was some heavy duty shit.
Steve Austin v Kurt Angle (Summerslam, 8/19/01)
Terrific match, and unless the Undertaker match from No Way Out '06 totally blows me away when I re-watch it, I'd definitely say it's Angle's best. There's an epic staredown at the start of this with both guys in the aisle; totally sets the tone for what's to come. Austin's phenomenal here. If his match with Rock at Wrestlemania earlier in the year was his devolution from the hero to the people to the most hated man in Texas (theoretically, anyway), this is his devolution from a man bordering on psychotic to a man well and truly enveloped in his own psychosis and paranoia. Judging this based on its arc, Austin's complete desperation and willingness to do anything at the end just to keep his title - assaulting every authority figure in sight just so SOME motherfucker will disqualify him - compared to his assuredness at the start - taunting Angle by flashing the belt in his face while he takes him to the cleaners - is truly a fuggin' masterclass in character development. There aren't too many guys I'd rather watch less than Kurt Angle these days, but he definitely holds up his end of the bargain in this, fighting from the bottom, taking some MANLY ring post shots, and generally ruling at the uber-babyface pro-wrestling. Granted, pre-2002 Angle is still for the most part absolutely tolerable for me, but he goes above and beyond to really sell the beating here. The ankle lock also still meant something as a move that could finish a guy early at this point, so when Austin goes to work on his ankle early in the match and Angle puts a stop to it with an ankle lock of his own, it's treated as a huge warning sign for Austin. The way it's put over as Austin's kryptonite of sorts is also really well done. His 6 or 7 German suplexes came across as being totally plausible here, as well -- Austin was the one to start throwing out the suplexes, so Angle counters it and shows him how it's really done. Like the ankle lock, I thought it was a great warning sign type spot. Like, "Don't cop my shit you bald son of a bitch." Austin's response to all of this - followed by his inability to put Angle away with two Stunners - by trying to weld Angle's face to the ring post is perfect. Angle's blade job is pretty hefty, too. Angle busting out everything he can muster and Austin having to resort to things like the Million Dollar Dream are a couple other things that put this over the top. Finish is something I actually really like and think is pretty much perfect in context, but at the same time you've got Steve Austin hitting Stone Cold Stunners on referees and, well, that's babyface Austin as much as it is heel Austin. Like I said, I really like it, but I could see something going the other way. Just an amazing match, though. IMO, as good as any title match the company's ever produced.
The Rock v Chris Jericho (No Mercy, 10/21/01)
This is excellent as well, and I came away from it thinking that Rock was the better of the two during it. The story is that it's Jericho's quest to finally win "the big one" and the crowd side with him more and more as the match goes, so Rock sort of ditches his usual babyface posturing and gradually becomes more "business-like", even stoic at times. He doesn't do it in a way that makes you think he's bitter about "his fans" siding with the enemy (Jericho's still a babyface, anyway), though, as opposed to his frustrations with Jericho over the past few weeks finally being let out. Jericho was the one that put a stop to the early chain wrestling by throwing fists, and Jericho sure as Hell never held anything back when he had control, so Rock wasn't about to do the same. His facial expressions were as strong here as I can ever remember; just a terrific all round performance. That said, Jericho BRINGS it here, too. He's almost heeling it up in the first half when he's in control, stinging Rock with little kicks to the head that are more for humiliation than actual damage, showing contempt from time to time. When Rock's in control he'll fight back with some big stuff, like the standing hurricanrana, and him busting out some of Rock's own moves against him was a great little dick move for the big occasion. The Rock Bottom came out of nowhere and seemed like some quick thinking, but when that - and a Lionsault - didn't work, the attempted People's Elbow was definitely intended as an insult. Love him peeling off his elbow pad and throwing it in Rock's face instead of tossing it out to the crowd. Rock DRILLING Jericho through the table with the REAL Rock Bottom came across as an even better spot as a result. And would you believe it, Rock's sharpshooter actually looked *good* for a change. Jericho's big WoJ spot after blocking the People's Elbow comes across as a massive moment, and the nearfall for it is molten. Finish is what it is, not particularly good, but I don't hate it or anything, either. Just a shame they dropped the ball with Jericho AGAIN not long after this.